Why The IT Team Needs To Be Part Of Company-wide Technology Decisions

Arno Ham, chief product officer, Sana Commerce
Today’s more business-savvy tech team is able to help make sure the right choices are made for the whole organization, says Arno Ham of Sana Commerce: ‘Position the IT team as business navigators, not ticket solvers.’

With so many tech options available today, it’s easy to fall prey to “shiny object syndrome,” says Arno Ham, chief product officer of Netherlands-based Sana Commerce.

To avoid that path—and make sure your choices help the whole organization—CIOs need to ensure that IT is part of all major tech decisions. Ham spoke with StrategicCIO360 about ensuring a holistic approach to tech, the importance of a long-term view and remembering to have fun.

Why should CIOs advocate for their IT teams to have a seat at the table when it comes to critical technology decisions?

This new generation of IT leaders that have cut their teeth in quick startups and fast-growing companies have already had to be a part of “the business”—they’ve had to make those critical business decisions. So, these leaders already have experience making proactive decisions.

One skill that CIOs and other IT leaders have developed is the ability to manage “shiny object syndrome.” Oftentimes, leaders from other components of the business will come forward saying, “Hey, we’ve found this great new product or application,” and they are eager to implement it immediately. Empowered IT teams and leaders can take a look at these requests and see if they can logically fit in within the existing business framework. 

Maybe the answer is, “Absolutely, this is a great decision. Here’s the best way we can implement that”—but it could also be the opposite. An empowered IT leader is more likely to say, “Hmm, this is a complex undertaking that doesn’t support the business. Maybe we can simplify this or go about this in a more prudent way.” 

Having an IT leader at the seat when it comes to critical technology decisions helps the business make the correct long-term choices. You can think strategically, instead of making multiple, short-term decisions that may not effectively build upon themselves. 

What is the impact to business when there are no IT voices present during important business discussions?

Building upon the last question, there is a real risk of “shiny-object syndrome.” It’s a natural tendency to want to take on something big—for a leader to say, “Hey let’s do a lot,” because more feels better, right? Perhaps it’s a bonus system or a complicated pricing structure for your customers—the examples are endless. But, without an IT voice present in those discussions, there isn’t the voice to say, “Hey, we can simplify this. We can automate this.” 

Additionally, when there aren’t IT voices present during key decisions, those decisions can often be informed exclusively by short-term thinking: targets, results. Chasing those short-term results is not always beneficial for the company. When you bring IT voices into the conversation, you get to look at problems on a different timescale, which helps clarify how these decisions will impact the organization in the long-term.

What are some steps CIOs can take to prevent misalignment with IT and the business?

CIOs need to not only understand the mission of the company, but also the reasoning behind it. Why is this our mission? How do our departmental goals support the overall mission? Talk with the business. Discover what the mission is and understand what it is you’re setting out to achieve. Is it more revenue? Sustainability? Then, position the IT team as business navigators, not ticket solvers. Orient the team around being the long-term, strategic asset for the business, and then articulate this value to the business leadership. 

IT represents one perspective of the business—not the right or wrong perspective. Short- and medium-term perspectives, sales perspectives, HR perspectives—these are all equally valuable voices that need to be at the table along with IT. For me, the goal is to build these multi-disciplinary teams, set egos aside and discover how you can all work forward to accomplish the mission. 

It’s also more fun. It’s fun to work cross-functionally. Don’t forget that you’re supposed to be having fun. Embrace the sparkles of insight and joy you get from solving a puzzle and accomplishing a mission as a team.

And celebrate that mission once it’s accomplished—that’s the best part! 

How can IT teams and their CIO better align on their vision for a technology driven future?

You need to understand the mission of the company. That’s one ingredient. The second ingredient is you need to know what is possible in the market. What technologies are out there? What solutions are on the horizon? How have other companies found success in automating processes or becoming more sustainable? 

When you understand the company’s mission and the available tech that can solve that mission, all you need to do is solve the puzzle. You lay out your puzzle pieces and fit them together until you can articulate effective business cases. Hey, we can generate revenue. Hey, we can reduce costs.

Technology is evolving and multiplying very quickly. IT needs to understand which technologies will add the most value to the organization and support the business’s mission most effectively. With such rapid change, it can be challenging to understand the long-term benefit, but, again, this is the value that IT brings to the business—this is how IT leaders prove they are not merely ticket solvers, but business navigators.

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